Spurred on by Matt Zoller Seitz’s video essays “The Substance of Style,” Jamie Rich has written an eloquent defense of The Life Aquatic, the film in Wes’ oeuvre that has received perhaps the harshest criticism:
That said, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou always seems to be the most maligned of these core films. Invariably, when talking about the movies with others, there is almost a knee-jerk need to claim that it is not as good as its siblings. It’s a comment that is so predictable and automatic, it has become one I no longer trust, at least without some further qualification. More often than not, it’s a movie that its detractors have seen once and never revisited, and whether they realize it or not, their main problem is an inability to forgive it for not being either Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums–which, of course, is absurd and also misses how amorphous the auteur really is. When you think about it, though one can draw a connector between those other films, that Rushmore is about the singular experience of the lone outcast and Tenenbaums is the collective experience of a family of outcasts (and one that Max Fischer might not have necessarily thrived in), they are also quite different. For as much as is made out of Anderson’s signature style, the creator is not as singular as even his ardent fans make him out to be. Though his is a rarefied world, a kind of shared universe where any of these stories could exist side by side in terms of creating a larger whole, each movie is distinctly different. They may have variations on similar themes, the way that, say, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear all mine relatable veins of love both romantic and familial, but they distinguish themselves as separate entities; in tone and setting, the Wes Anderson oeuvre is as vast as those three Shakespeare plays (read more).